A Sense of Community

I’m writing this a day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. My country remembers this great man as a Civil Rights leader, a compassionate man, a minister, an agitator who became the face of a movement we still need today. We remember him with a holiday, celebrating his birthday with community events and community service, outreach to make our corner of the world just a little better.

Very fitting. Community outreach was the very thing we love Dr. King for, and yet it’s not exactly the reason we remember him.

Community…a seemingly elusive concept that grows more distant every year. We can chat with perfect strangers on Facebook, but we don’t even know our neighbor’s names. We can tell you all about our ‘Facebook friends’ and their kids, what they’ve done, their accomplishments, vacations, parties…but we don’t know if the elderly people down the road have heat this winter or if the new mother two houses away gets enough food.

We don’t care that our school systems are broken, we don’t care that states now have the wherewithal to pronounce healthcare as unnecessary because it ‘doesn’t prevent enough illness’, we only just feel bad for those people swept up in hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, fires and mudslides, and we don’t care that homeless men, women and children may be freezing to death on the streets or that some are starving to death in Puerto Rico.

Except, we do. On a deep and profound level, we absolutely care, and it’s just awful. These things that are happening are just awful…But it’s overwhelming, and what can we do? That’s what we have governments for…

But we see where that got us. We need to start helping ourselves, too. We need to stop relying on some outside force that obviously stopped caring about its people a long time ago and start caring for ourselves…and our neighbors.

So this year, let’s honor the memories of all the great men and women who have gone before, who have managed to make their corner of the world just a little better—whether they be celebrated or humble, whether we know of their accomplishments or if they just touched a handful of people—let us celebrate them by bring back a sense of community.

There are things you can do that don’t take much time or money. Help somebody with their bags, shovel the snow off their sidewalk, mow their grass. Give to food banks and homeless shelters. Donate pens and pencils to schools.

Be nice to others.

Part of our problem here, in this country, is that there is always someone ‘different’. Different is code for ‘not my kind of person’ right?

I used to live in Africa, where there is a very strong sense of community. That’s not my point, though. Having lived overseas for a number of years, I’d reached a place where I could Spot The Americans. I knew them right off—because they moved a certain way, owned whatever space they currently occupied a certain way. There was some innate arrogance/confidence/aggression in their very demeanor—and I don’t mean that in a bad way. They weren’t necessarily rude, just…different from everyone else.

Americans are encouraged to say they’re Canadians when they travel overseas. I don’t know why, but I can tell you it doesn’t work. You do something like that, and whoever you’re talking to will just think you’re a liar. Even if they go along with it. You’re American, and it’s telling in every breath you take.

I wish I could hold up a mirror and show my countrymen how very similar we are. We are unlike everyone else, and yet we descend from everyone else. We’re so busy trying to define our differences that we keep overlooking our similarities, and that prevents us from developing our sense of community into the greatness that so many are clamoring for.

We are one nation. A nation is a people. We are one people. One community.

Let’s start acting like it.

Not so bad after all…

So I was absolutely convinced that 2018 would be better than 2017. Convinced. Nothing seemed to go right in 2017 and the New Year was going to turn the page, start fresh, clean slate…

But I didn’t win the Powerball. That really sucks because my furnace went up…and my pipes were frozen and last night I was in a minor accident that makes me want to call out of work every time inclement weather comes to town… Except, I didn’t win the Powerball and those $5 royalty checks from Amazon won’t pay my bills.

But Fate teases me because everything is bad, but not anywhere close to as bad as it could have been. One week later, and the furnace issue would have resulted in a life-or-death struggle for my grandmother, if not me. Temperatures around here hit 1 degree. ONE. Yes. We’re not used to that. Even with the new furnace, we were layered up and still cold (drafty old house) and the hot water pipes froze to the bathroom. But again—not so bad, considering we still had water and between pipes breaking in other people’s houses and the water mains exploding all over town, we were very lucky. And we still had hot water in the kitchen.

That’s how so much seems to be, though. Especially lately. Do you read horoscopes? I’m a Libra…wasn’t I supposed to have some sort of Emerald/Jubilee year where everything went well and my life and career finally took off in an overly blessed way?

I’d hate to see what would have happened if the Heavens weren’t smiling down me.

But, seriously… It’s been hard and I’ve done a lot of complaining about that. It’s also been ‘not as bad as it could have been’ but sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough.

Today, it is enough. Today, the accident I had resulted in a small dent, and there were three cars involved on an extremely icy street. One small dent. That’s pretty good. Also, my house is toasty warm and my hot water is back so I can take a boiling hot shower, the sun is shining outside and the temperature is crawling toward the upper Thirties.

And my optimism rises again. Maybe 2018 will be just fine, after all…

Baltimore

Baltimore.

Back in the 90s, when I was a teenager, it was called The City that Bleeds. A rip on the ‘City that Reads’ slogan we used to boast, and an indicator of the level of violence back in those days.

Today, Yahoo had a story on Baltimore, and though I knew better than to read the comments, I did read a few. And I got angry, of course. Too many people that can’t even find my city on a map have opinions on the liberal government, calling the people here entitled, blaming black leadership when this problem began under white leadership and has carried over from centuries of economic inequality.

I’ll tell you now, the problem isn’t specifically racial. Most people in Baltimore will tell you the same thing, and I even saw several try to tell the national news media when they were here for our ‘riots’ only to be shut down because it didn’t fit the narrative people were trying to tell. Or sell, as the case may be.

I hate when you start talking about my city without knowing a thing about it. I hate when you develop a misinformed opinion based on what you think you know. Just because you watched The Wire doesn’t mean you know anything about this city. You’ve got to live here to understand.

I’ll give a run-down, though. Just to help a little.

  1. We’re way more diverse than the media would have you believe. We’re also way more integrated in most neighborhoods…except the very poorest where the majority of residents are people of color and brown immigrants. That’s a problem that’s echoed in every city in this nation. So…if you live in a city, you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb thanks to the lack of opportunities for the poorest people.
  2. We haven’t had youth programs in this city since the early 90s, when the Police Athletic League was done away with. BTW, that was not done under black leadership, either. When you deprive the youth of safe entertainment and socialization outlets, they will create their own or fall into alternative opportunities that may result in high crimes and/or death. Spend some money on youth programs and I guarantee the crime rates will fall. Idle hands, and whatnot—you know that saying?
  3. There is no future, no community investment, no opportunities for growth and mobility. That leaves limited options. If you’re trying to support your family, where will you go for money? Gangs, when there are no legitimate means. And that goes back to youth programs because gangs recruit early and they foster a sense of loyalty and family the government and your grandma can’t compete with. Oh, and we’re currently working on the second or third generation of this, so kids learned what their parents learned…
  4. Food deserts exist in cities. We have Arabers who carry food into the communities, but we need more. We need more smaller groceries and farmer’s markets, more local produce options and community gardens. Neighborhoods don’t always have good access to markets and grocery stores because space is limited. You won’t find a Walmart close by and lots of people have to buy only what they can carry on the bus, so no savings on bulk like the suburbanites and their wholesale clubs. It’s a problem for nutrition and health, energy and output and has educational ramifications, as well. Kids don’t have enough food to concentrate on daily studies, so we need to be feeding them better in school. Don’t tell me how your kid hated the healthy food Michelle Obama chose for the education system. Don’t tell me how they threw it away and don’t be smug about it when there are legitimate cases of severe malnourishment in poor neighborhoods.
  5. The education is for shit here. They restructured thanks to George W. Bush’s (not liberal, BTW) No Child Left Behind policy, which may have had good intentions, but resulted in children being pushed through the system no matter if they could read or not. America’s literacy rate has fallen, and continues to fall, drastically, dramatically and alarmingly. Wake up, people. Start wondering what your own kids are being taught, and start questioning what the school system may have hidden from you. In my city and the surrounding counties, we are now learning some terrible truths and if you start digging, I’ll bet you’ll find some too.
  6. Entrepreneurship was turned into a dirty word, or just made impossible. Unless you want to open a liquor store, of course. How about spending some money on grants for small businesses? How about broadly advertising SBA programs and workshops to help budding businessmen and women learn about their options and what’s needed to open a business. Get more small boutiques, stores and services into every community to help lift everyone, to create a stable micro-economy that feeds into the larger city revenues. Focus on small and work up, because trickle down really, really doesn’t work.
  7. Which brings me to the politicians. It’s human nature to be greedy and grasping—and don’t try to sputter a defense of yourself, we all have those moments. Unfortunately, too many in power are allowed to have those moments too frequently, and it doesn’t matter if they’re liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, black or white. They are people, so things universal to human nature hold true regardless of whatever box you’d like to shove them into. Yes they get reelected—what do you expect of a population that has a lowering literacy rate? What do you expect of a population that is told repeatedly that they are worthless and their voice doesn’t matter?

 

And, BTW, why are any elected officials allowed to vote themselves a raise? (Revenue from the speed cameras, I suppose?) A public servant’s pay increase should be a matter of public referendum. How dare you believe you deserve more money for a job well done when we can bury the dead in all the potholes and your own detectives are being killed on the job? How dare you think you should get more money when our kids are graduating with zero proficiency in their school subjects? You think you’re doing well? Let’s take a vote. If we agree, you get your raise, if not, you don’t. It’s called accountability…or theft, the way you do it.

 

Jesus preserve us, for the second time in as many weeks I find myself repeating the words of an evil madman who doesn’t deserve the fame the world afforded him. People are reflections of the society around them. They are what we made them.

You don’t want violence in your cities? Invest in the people. Don’t give them things, teach them things. Provide opportunities and you won’t have to give them hand-outs. They’re not entitled, they’re appeased in the most negligent way the white patriarchy could come up with. And yes, I blame white patriarchy in particular even though many white people are caught in the same system with the same limitations because—from the outset—our system was set up to  accommodate the rich.

Most poor people are white, but most black people are poor.

Think about that.

Honestly, at the end of the day, this is all classist, not specifically racist, but we are appeased by racist thinking because then we of the lower 50% turn on each other rather than put our considerably energy and talents toward rectifying the true problem. The hoarding of resources.

So, the next time you want to form an opinion on a place you’ve never been based on something you saw in the media, but you’ve never heard a single truth from someone who lives there…just bite your tongue and, instead, start thinking about all the ways we could improve the lives of the clearly downtrodden.

Better schools, business loan programs, good nutrition and a focus on the youth to teach them how to be productive citizens. That kind of knowledge doesn’t result on its own, you know. Someone taught you how to tie your shoes, right? Hands-on approach rather than through observation.

Also, you with your opinions, what are doing to make your own community better?

 

That’s my bone to pick…

New Year, Fresh Start

It’s snowing outside, and we don’t have heat. Nearly two weeks ago, our furnace almost burned the house down. It was a terrifying thing for me, especially considering how scared I’ve always been of fire and starting fires and having them get out of control. Maybe in a past life I was burned at the stake or something.

Over the past month, I’ve cracked my tooth on pumpkin seeds, severed a portion of my thumb and almost had my house burn down. I’m currently dressed in layers, wrapped in a blanket watching it snow beyond my window and alternating between typing this and stuffing my hands under my cat’s belly to warm them back up.

It feels like it’s been a hard year (or decade). There have been a lot of medical issues in my family, I’ve had break ups that sort of broke my heart, I’ve become more isolated and I can’t write. Well, I can, but then I feel unmotivated and uninspired and even when I try to read, all I want to do is watch a movie.

It’s been so hard, and I’ve cried more than I ever have before…and yet I feel like I’m overreacting. I feel like it hasn’t been that bad and I’ve been blessed with a family who, no matter how often they’re the ones making me cry, still love me. And they’ve all survived thus far, though who knows what the remainder of this year will bring.

I can only hope, and let go.

I’m excited about the new year. I’m also scared, because over the past few years, I’ve faced failure in a way I’d never done before. In someone else’s POV, maybe I’ve had success. I’ve certainly expanded my horizons, and I’ve evolved as a person…Just not as much as I’d wanted or expected.

And writing…being an author. Well, it’s the first time I ever failed to reach my goals in my entire life. I’m the first-born overachiever of the white equivalent of a Tiger Mom, and so this has been a really painful experience for me.

I try to remember the positives. I wrote a book. I wrote a few, actually. And I think they’re decent. Pretty good, at least. I learned some graphic design, how to set up a website and how to create a newsletter. I’ve done things I never thought I’d be able to. I’ve learned just a smidge about marketing, and if I wasn’t such a spectacular failure at tooting my own horn, maybe I’d have actually sold some books, too.

But, you see, that’s my problem and my fear. There have been few occasions in my life where I’ve stood tall in the spotlight. Living overseas was one of them, because I had no choice. That’s probably why so much of my heart was left in Africa, and why I continue to bore everyone around me with anecdotes of my time there. I once said I was more ‘me’ there than anywhere else.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. What makes me ‘me’? I didn’t have to fit in anyone’s box over there. They accepted my eccentricities completely because I was foreign and they thought I didn’t know better. They were tolerant of my oddities. My family and my friends are not.

They want me to be successful, but they don’t want me to outshine them. I’ve felt that strange pressure my whole life. When I do really well, they aren’t that happy. When I moderate myself to be at the top of the middle, they’re all so proud.

I’ve spent my life being what others wanted me to be, trying to live up to their expectations. I was supposed to do well in school, and I did. I was supposed to be adventurous, but I was more so than they wanted. They meant go away to college…and I meant run away to foreign lands. I was supposed to have a job and support myself and then support them in their old age. I was supposed get married and have kids and take care of the parents and grandparents just like a thousand other women on the verge of breakdowns…but I don’t do things right.

I’m not married and I’ve never had a relationship that was so serious that I would have considered such a thing. I don’t think I’m all that lovable, but that could just be the lesson my family has drilled into my head. I don’t have kids because I don’t want to fuck them up like so many other people have. Like I was, like my friends’ kids are. I don’t want to become a hypocrite like so many around me have become and I don’t want to be screamed at for taking care of others the wrong way.

But I do want to take care of them. They think I’m controlling, and I am, but they made me that way. I’ve been the caretaker since I was thirteen years old. My mother was sick, my brothers were little and my dad worked. I cooked, cleaned and watched the children. You can’t mold me into that person, then tell me I shouldn’t be that.

God help us all, but Charles Manson said one right thing in his life.  “I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you…” That’s true for everyone, but it took a madman to point it out.

There’s a laundry list of Lola’s faults. I’m controlling. I’m reckless. I’m not married, I don’t have kids and I don’t believe in the right religion. I’m unprepared for the future, I can’t possibly be successful at operating a bookstore and in spite of my extremely high credit rating, I’m not trustworthy enough for my parents to co-sign a loan I, personally, have no collateral for…

But I am what they made me. I am free-thinking, dedicated to learning the truth, to living the most decent life I can and taking care of others. The negatives are just perception, the flip side of the coin, and easier for me to believe and speak of, than the positives.

In a half-joking manner, I’ve been blaming astrology for the past decade’s hardships. Saturn… or maybe Pluto. But maybe it’s just my turn to grow up. To really grow up and face the hardships of being your own person among the people who love you, but may never understand how you could have turned out so differently. Maybe it’s my turn to create m y own reflection of myself, to stop being what others expect and start living out my own truth fearlessly. Maybe that’s the artist’s place in the grand scheme of things. To see differently, think differently, to aggravate and provoke, perhaps.

Maybe 2018 will somehow be better than the past decade. Maybe this new growth into a true adulthood, as painful as it’s been, will have equipped me for whatever is coming. And it does feel like something is coming. There’s a funny frequency in the world around me. I’m brimming with ideas and I’m excited to try my hand at entrepreneurship. I look forward to creating a place the community can gather and re-meet each other.

I just have to find a way to do it on my own, in my own way because some of us are destined to carve our own path…

And that’s what I’ll be doing in the new year.

Is it human nature to isolate?

Is it human nature to isolate? To put yourself into a box, to put all others into a box, to create many boxes and make someone fit somewhere?

Us versus them.

I understand the importance of this concept evolutionarily speaking. Your tribe might have been in direct competition with another tribe for various resources… And we all know we’ve got to take care of our own first, right?

But human society has evolved faster than human brains have. Humans are still hardwired toward selfishness because that greed could have meant the difference between survival and a horrendous death. Those with resources hoarded them in case they ever faced a time when those resources were scarce.

Fuck everybody else.

But we’ve come so far. As a society, as a technologically advancing series of societies, as a global tribe with a greater understanding of each other every day…we’ve come so far. Do you really want to be great? Then you have to lift everyone to greatness.

A rising tide floats all boats.

I don’t believe communism is the answer. I think it’s a terrible system, in fact, because humans are hardwired to be selfish hoarders. Why would I do the work when I’ll get what I need anyway? And if you’re not doing the work and you’re still getting what I’m getting, why would I continue to do the work? Society breaks down.

We definitely need a merit system. But we need a system where we are all accountable to each other, invested in each other and our communities. We need our governments to be accountable too, because that is the purpose of being a tribe. A tribe has to have accountable leaders who care about their people, or at least cares about a people’s revolution enough to work in the community’s interests rather than their own.

This holiday season, let’s try to look at things from a different perspective. Let’s find some compassion, some understanding. Stop the isolationism, work together and break out of those boxes…and maybe then we truly can be great.

Characteristics of a Cult

I’ll just leave this here…

  • Zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader or its ‘Truth’
  • The leader is above the law
  • Leaders dictate how members should think, act and feel
  • Doubt and dissent have harsh consequences
  • The ends justify the means
  • Submission/subservience is demanded
  • Guilt and shame or fear and intimidation are used to influence

 

  • The group is somehow better than all others and only those who are special enough may join
  • Us versus Them mentality
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group
  • True believers feel there is no life outside the group
  • Gender roles are strictly defined and adhered to by the group
  • Group-think (due to harsh consequences of dissent)

There is a great list and breakdown of various characteristics on Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (Matt Slick)

And here’s an interesting (partial list) created in 2009 The Guardian (Rick Ross) I only used the points directly concerned with the leader, rather than points concerning the group and/or its members

Warning signs of a potential cult leader:

  • Absolute power with no accountability
  • No tolerance for questions or criticism
  • No meaningful financial disclosure
  • Feeling/Instilling feelings of persecution from the outside world

 

There have been many organizations considered to be cults that later evolved into society-recognized religions/movements/what-have-you. So, where is the fine line that separates a ‘real’ religion/movement/etc. from a drinking-the-juice-aid/only-the-crazies-do-it cult? What do you think?

 

 

Trickling down takes a certain gravity

Drip, drip, drip…does it ever become a flood?

What do the people who think they’re in charge mean by trickle-down economics? They mean that they pass laws that benefit the wealthiest pocketbooks and, in return, the money trickles down…to them. They get money to pass more laws to benefit the wealthiest and the money trickles down again…to them.

We’ll call this the Money Wheel. No, the Economic Cycle… Ooh, no, The Price is Right.

My education focused on social and political developmental issues, things like education (and a rant on that is coming soon) the need for safe roads and youth programs, and also free elections and a multiple party electoral system where no one ideology can gain the majority and those who are supposed to be representing the people are no longer able to represent their own economic interests instead.

We have entered a truly capitalist age in the United States. Currently, we are seeing a massive expansion of corporate interests and protections, but this comes at the cost of resources our country has long valued. These economic changes come at the cost of blessings that we have taken for granted…

Clean drinking water, for example. Silt, oil and god-only-knows-what-else can pollute the ground water to the point that our water treatment facilities are unable to adequately clean it. If they shut down, we’ll have to hope the microscopic organisms don’t kill us first. (Ask around any area flooded after a hurricane, they’ll tell you how nightmarish ‘no water’ can be.) That means, we’ll either poison ourselves with chemical agents trying to disinfect the water, or we’ll get used to the taste of petroleum. Either way, it’s a remarkable change from what we have now, with enough clean water access that we can dig massive holes, fill them up with water that won’t kill us via some awful flesh-eating bacteria, and play in it.

For comparison: I used to live in Africa. If I wanted to play in water, I had to take my chances next to the sharp-toothed wildlife. To drink the water, I walked a half-kilometer, pumped the water into a bucket I then carried home on my head, boiled it and put it through a filter. There are some families over there who must designate one member to nearly exclusive water duty, and it takes hours to get enough to supply the family for the day. Would you like to switch over to that system? Because that might be coming…

The majority of us value our resources and understand that our society is not just capitalist. If so, we’d all be registered as corporations. We wouldn’t care about education, healthcare, food or water. We’d be in the ring every day, fighting for own survival…

A society has other concerns than money, and those concerns must be met. Just look at Maslow’s Hierarchy (and consider where we might be on this scale):

We must balance the things we need to survive into the future with the economic interests of today. Clear air, so we can breathe, clean water, so we can live. The bees are already in danger because of human actions, and they are extremely important to the environment and the way life lives. If you’re not concerned, if you’re skeptical of a need to protect the environment, then you don’t understand the consequences.

Side note: if you’re a Christian arguing against things like climate change and the importance of forest preservation and species conservation, I suggest you take a look back at Genesis, where God creates Adam to be a caretaker of the earth and all things in it. Are you doing your part? When you stand before the Creator on judgment day, neither ignorance nor disbelief will be a proper defense for the way you, personally, probably treated the environment around you.

All right, all right. I’ll put that particular soap box away and come to my point. Trickle down economics is a myth. They’ve been trying to rationalize this lie for decades now, and it still doesn’t pan out. Do you really think that the richest people who have stockpiles of money don’t have enough to hire more people for their corporations? They can invest in everything but people, we’ve got computers and robots and advanced research & development happening every single day, and you think they can’t afford to pay somebody $10 an hour to…what are you going to do for them, anyway? Sweep the floor? They got a Roomba.

It’s a pyramid scheme, and you’ve been taken. Quite frankly, we’ve all been taken—hostage, that is. There is no trickle down, and no, there is no real trickle up, either. There is a small benefit to giving more money to poor people, because they will actually spend the money in their local economies, unlike rich people, who only buy designer brands and fly to foreign countries for handmade specialty items.

We need a radiate out program, instead. (Historically, people in charge don’t like that idea.) Pump the money into the middle class and you suddenly create upward mobility. They will both spend in their local economies and invest in large corporations. We need entrepreneurial programs to help ordinary folks with a vision open their own businesses. We really do need a return to Main Street, and I can see this country clamoring for it.

I saw a comment on a forum the other day about the death of Mom & Pop stores, and how they’ll never come back. But that’s not true. The comment focused on bigger businesses, like Walmart and Target, and the importation of cheaper, foreign-made objects. That has their place, and it’s a valuable one to our society. Everyone should have the right to affordable soap and underwear, right?

But raise your hand if you’d rather shop for something special at a local boutique. Raise your hand if you’d like to buy a handmade piece of jewelry that no one else has—all for a good price from a local artist. Raise your hand if you have a favorite independent coffee shop that suits your personality exactly. How about fresh bread, yummy pastries? Tell me why Farmer’s Markets do so well if Mom & Pop’s have gone the way of the dodo.

This country isn’t all about big business, that’s just what the baby boomers focused on. And, to be brutally honest, I’m getting tired of them deciding our future, when they won’t have to pay the consequences for their bad decisions and tunnel vision.

We are a people. A tribe, a nation. In spite of our differences, we’re all supposed to be on the same side, one team. That’s a functioning society, where we all contribute, are allowed to contribute and respect each other’s differences and opinions and unique perspectives. But, for too long, we’ve been treated like a corporation, with clear favoritism, cut-throat hiring practices and little opportunity for advancement. Now, they’re turning us into cage-match fighters, looking for survival.

So, take a minute to think… Let’s pretend rich people and corporations really do hire more people when they get a kick back from the government. Do you think they’ll hire you? Are you close enough to get a job with them? Are you qualified for a job with them? How do you think the current economic plan that’s making its way through the Senate and the House will benefit you? You, personally. If your answer has a ‘but’ in there, it doesn’t. It won’t help you at all.

Our society needs to balance the economy with other interests. How about healthcare, education, saving our national treasures and reducing crime. All the things we have issues with today are a direct result of poor and/or nefarious financial decisions. We need to stop walking party lines in this country and start remembering that we’re all in the same boat. And the people we trusted with our oars are steering us toward a waterfall.

~~~

That’s my bone to pick…

You won’t always agree, and that’s okay. I’d still love to hear your comments, so long as you can manage to keep yourself respectful, because we all deserve a little dignity. Be human, you know?

Just Breathe, Anxiety 5-4-3-2-1

So, I’ve been sick. I’ve been sick for a long time, and it’s actually pretty difficult to deal with because I look fine. Maybe a little tired. Everyone looks at me and thinks everything is okay, they see me moving, lots of energy…except I hurt all the time and I’m pushing for energy when I really want to sit down and my immune system is compromised. But that’s not something people see either.

I get a lot of side-eyed glares and “You’re sick again?” My family and friends call me a hypochondriac. The people I work with sigh and tell me, “It’s always something, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is. There is something wrong. I can feel it and all the testing my doctors have done have come back different, every time. My thyroid’s out of whack…no, it’s normal…well, it’s borderline…ah, it’s fine! Maybe my gallbladder needs to come out. Maybe I have pancreatitis. Or a vitamin deficiency. Or an overactive stress reaction. Maybe I just need counseling.

What I think is that my hormones are totally off for whatever reason. Thyroid, estrogen dominance, stress…maybe this is how I become a shaman. I don’t know, but I’ve heard a lot of theories.

I’ve developed anxiety. I tend not to go out very often, not just because I’m an introvert, but because of these new anxiety attacks I get sometimes.

Last night, I got one. It was fairly bad, too. I was hot, restless, sick to my stomach. I don’t necessarily get a sense of impending doom, my brain focuses on one horrible thing that I’m just sure will happen. (It never does).

I took slow, deep breaths. I tried to be rational and talk myself out of the crazed fears my brain tossed out. I pictured the worst case scenario and figured out how I’d deal with it. I clawed my palms, which seemed to help because it provided a distraction when all the nerves in my body suddenly told me I was in pain, I was sick and I needed to excuse myself right away. But I was in a situation where I couldn’t excuse myself, and neither did I want to.

I saw a meme about anxiety on Facebook not too long ago, and so I whipped it out, except I couldn’t really remember it. All I remembered was 5-4-3-2-1, and I knew it had something to do with the senses. So I made up the rest. I looked for five things I could see, four things I could hear, three things I could smell…skipped the sense of taste and found four more things I could touch with different textures.

And it worked. The knot in my stomach immediately loosened, my spine relaxed and my lungs felt freer. I was still more jittery than I wanted, but I felt worlds better than I had.

When I go someplace and I’m comfortable, it’s usually because I feel like I can control my surroundings. (Although, sometimes I go someplace I’m not comfortable and the anxiety never kicks in, and sometimes I go to a very familiar place and can’t breathe). Strange, because I’m literally trained to deal with chaos and crises—but, then again, maybe that’s why I prefer control. My job is to take chaos and bring it under control, and I’m good at my job. Even in my writing, I control what happens, and though sometimes my characters surprise me, it’s not the same as real-world events, is it?

Anxiety is one of the drawbacks of whatever so-far-undiagnosed thing is going on with me. And maybe that means it is a stress-related issue and not hormonal. I’ve gotten a lot of what went wrong with me under control through an overhaul in what I eat. I’ve seen nutrition perform miracles, so I’ve applied that idea to my own life, and I’m having pretty good success with it. But nutrition only goes so far with a stress reaction when you’re out for the night.

I’m very happy that the 5-4-3-2-1 thing worked, even if I made up what to do about. I was surprised it worked and relieved it did, so I wanted to share the experience. If any of my readers suffer from anxiety and want to know more about this technique, I did a little research on it to write this post and found this short and to-the-point article about it.

P.S. In case you wondered, I’ve just about given up on doctors with this whole thing, too. If something major happens, of course I’ll seek medical advice, but they’re all playing the same guessing game that I am right now, so I’m going holistic. Good nutrition, meditation, long, boiling hot baths and lots of creative outlets have really helped my health. I’ve moved away from relationships that were painful, I’ve gotten into the sunlight more often and I watch birds and squirrels while I let my brain go quiet. I pet my cat. I still have a ways to go, but I’m feeling so much better than last year, when my body was shutting down.

Flight or fight… If you can’t run from something, you might as well fight it however you can.

 

Women

I’m going to keep going for another week on the female angle. Mostly because the pond is still rippling with more and more allegations, more women speaking up, more women supporting other women and more men coming to a realization of what women might be putting up with on a daily basis.

First, let me just say that a line has been drawn. It’s about damned time, too. Women are tired and have been tired and sometime in the past year or so, we’ve had all our powerlessness thrown back into our faces, salt rubbed into the wound a few times too many… And we’re beginning to remember that the world turns on us. We are the glue, we are the backbone and we are the future of every generation that’s ever lived.

Sorry if that hurt your feelings, guys, but it’s the way nature intended the world to work, and ancient men decided they weren’t confident enough in the roles they’d been assigned to allow others to lead. (Take a look around and tell me how the last few millennia have worked out for everyone.)

Men are starting to realize that all women have faced harassment solely because they are women many, many times in their lives. You’ve done it too—and the things you’ve said to a woman will have been said to your mother, aunts, wife, and will be said to your daughters and granddaughters. And they were all told to shut up and take it. Don’t make waves, men will be men, boys will just run their mouths…Women have to be strong, you know.

Strong without taking credit. Strong enough to lend face to their menfolk so their delicate feelings don’t get hurt.

Really?

I’m writing an angry rant today because I’ve seen so many bullshit comments over the past few weeks, primarily written by men but also some of the hordes of brainwashed women, too. I’ve seen things about feminazis, liars who waited to come forward…and I’ve read comments about bringing up all the stuff the Clintons and the Kennedys had been accused of.

Well they’re dead, so let’s take them out of the political equation, ‘mm-kay? Also, blah, blah, Bill Clinton. Yup, he should be held to the same standards too. But why not back then? Because American women hadn’t had to wake up to the blatantly offensive things we wake up to today, and a different generation had still believed that keeping quiet was the best tactic for survival.

And maybe it was, but it’s not working anymore. Honestly, it never has worked, it was only a temporary fix, because we might be surviving today, but we’re not letting our daughters or our sons live in their future. We’re evolving, right now, very visibly. The upcoming generations will be so much different than anything we’ve seen in current history, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Sleazebags come in all shapes, sizes, colors and political affiliations. Some of these accusations hurt—I get it. It’s disappointing that human beings are not all good or all evil, that they don’t make it so convenient for the rest of us to judge. Pain is on both sides of the aisle now. But we’ve got to face it, we’ve got to uncover the festering wound because that’s the only way we can clean and heal it.

This is an issue of respect. Ask a man how he’d feel if another man went down the street catcalling him, groping him, pressuring him for sexual favors, threatening his career just because he didn’t give out blowjobs any time he was ordered to. How would he feel knowing that there might possibly be someone waiting for him in the dark, near his parked car or somewhere in his house, in any shadowed place, really, and that he wouldn’t just get beaten and robbed by someone stronger, but held down and raped, possibly by multiple men, just because they could do so.

Oh, and when they got raped, maybe they got pregnant too. No matter what health issues are at stake, no matter how old they might be…No matter that they may or may not even have access to adequate medical care for themselves, let alone a baby.

And men are surprised by our reactions. They’ve made jokes forever about how women on blind dates are scared they’ve been matched up with some serial killer. Well, yeah, because the guy in question might be a serial killer! Bad things happen to females who are alone. It’s partly why we pee together.

But we’re at a turning point. Turning points hurt, I know. But every day is a chance to start fresh, atone for the sins of the past, deal with the repercussions that you know you’ve probably earned and move forward with a new perspective and a new dedication to respecting others.

Respect. Seriously.

To finish this angry little rant about the rights of women and the responsibilities of men as human beings who occupy space alongside women, I’d like to share some observations I made while I lived in Africa. (Because women in America are standing up demanding respect, and because many places in Africa are undergoing its own changes concerning respect, too.)

The women (I knew) there are truly amazing.

Pare down all the first and second world bullshit, and you’ll see what women had always been meant to be and do. They lead, they laugh and they love. Unfortunately, most are still under the very oppressive thumb of patriarchy in some manner or another, but these women are the epitome of strength, grace and generosity. Without them, I wouldn’t have done half as well over there as I did.

They break their backs every day. They care for their families and take care of their families, and still have time to care for you, too. They point out what’s wrong with their corner of society, they hold their neighbors to standards of decency that anyone would agree with while simultaneously encouraging a bit of freedom in thought, word and deed. They love their children and their husbands fiercely, they forgive easily, but they also stand as guardians of progress and what’s right versus what’s wrong.

They’re not perfect, their cultures can be very different from anything you’ve ever known, but their humanity is rock-solid, and the same as nearly all other woman worldwide, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or education level. There are simply some morals that are universal.

Women are the keepers of those morals and societal standards, but we forgot that and once we forgot, we had a hard time passing it on to our children. Now we’re living in a time when respect is a rare commodity, internet trolls draw blood on the daily and leading political figures figuratively spit on common folk for no good reason other than greed and egotism.

That’s our line in the sand. There’s a lot of you on the opposite side of that line too, so y’all better hold on to your hats because the erosion of the shit that’s piled up over previous, silent generations has already started.

Do you believe in magic?

Today, I’m getting my kitchen witch on.

Okay, over the past week, I’ve been getting my kitchen witch on. I believe in magic, but, as much as I’d love to believe in magic wands, flying broomsticks and that scene in Practical Magic where Sandra Bullock blows on the candle to light it, that’s not what I think it’s all about.

Ironically, I believe in practical magic, just not the movie. Like a few weeks ago when I was searching for a non-specific ring, and something told me to look in my grandmother’s junk drawer…keep digging…farther. I had no idea what was in there or what I was even looking for, but not only did I pull out a fox pin (see my post on how I keep finding foxes everywhere) but also exactly what I needed for the project I was working on.

Practical, right? (BTW, now I can’t stop finding rings. They’re everywhere—in my sink (!!) on the street, on the floor, in boxes…And I’ve never seen any of them before.)

So I’m currently quite taken with the idea of a kitchen witch. My (Welsh-descendant side) family has a long and vivid oral history of who saw ghosts, who knew what in an uncanny manner, who had dreams… We were once witches most likely, and to this day carry a heavy emphasis on the female, the matriarch. Things happen with my family members, strange occurrences are the norm for us and certain concepts don’t really faze me.

This past year, as many of you know, I got really sick. It required me to change my entire diet in order to have a functioning system again. So I’ve gotten into nutrition. Also, years ago, I lived in Africa and I was very into nutrition then (forced to be, really) and started learning a lot about natural medicines (again, forced to by circumstances) and was privileged enough to have seen some extremely intelligent, compassionate and even magical women working in their roles as traditional healers.

 

In case you doubt my emphasis on the strength of women, and the ancient roles of women that I believe should be and are being reinstated in the present era, see my post about the feminine divine.

 

 

Anyway, this past year, I’ve gotten back into nutrition in a big way. My grandmother was always the one with the green thumb, but I’m about to try my hand with some kitchen herbs, and considering the fact that I don’t particularly care about growing things, this is especially surprising. But the need is there. To have some greenery around me, to have the aromatic scent of fresh herbs, to know that I’m growing something that is beneficial to the things I’m cooking and therefore my family’s health, is really making me happy.

Also, my cat’s been poisoning himself with a new houseplant, so I’ve got to replace it with a better, healthier distraction for him.

I’ve been cooking alot. For months now, I’ve cooked nearly every day. I’ve focused on fresh vegetables, and have nearly done away with meat. Not because I’m a vegetarian and not because I have some moral objection to it, but my body doesn’t do well with meat anymore. It makes me literally sick, to the point where my system starts shutting down again until it’s fully digested, which takes weeks, with the way my system is sluggish, especially after consuming meat. A cycle of horrors (and pain, illness, etc.)

Because of my health, I’m getting organized. I’ve rearranged rooms, furniture, logistical systems. I’m moving things around in my kitchen to institute some sort of organization and I’ve created a pantry out of things I already had in my house. I both hate it, and love it. Maybe one day I can do a real renovation, but that would require a lot more people buying my books!

Speaking of… I’ve been meaning to get a recipe book, then I realized I have an old day planner that I fell in love with years ago. It’s a binder, so the pages are easily removed or added, yet it’s leather-bound with a closure and plenty of slots for (business cards) little things I want to keep. Since I’m not using it as a planner anymore, I thought about doing a recipe book in this, scrapbook style, with cutesy things, pictures, quotes…

So of course I looked that up. And saw the kitchen witch thing. And it feels right. It fits.

It seems that’s what I am becoming, or maybe that’s what I always was. I’m a caretaker, always have been. Maybe the magic that runs through my family finally found its natural place inside me. Not that I didn’t have any (I could tell some stories!) but maybe it’s more fully realized in this endeavor than it has been in any other. I’m continually drawn toward caring for people (addicts, the sick, the elderly and children to date) and healing in some way (in Africa I served a role in community health and have worked in hospital settings and clinics in the US). I love the idea that nature has provided us a foundation, even though I fully believe there are things science does much better.

But taking care of my family, infusing health and love into all the things I’m doing around my home and growing ever more excited by the way one project leads toward another is surprising, and inspiring. It’s so much work, but I’m excited to do it.

I’m not Wiccan. I always say ‘Wiccan-ish’ knowing that I believed in and felt something, but also knowing it wasn’t what other people believed and knew. I was raised in the Lutheran church, anyway, and yet feel there is truth in every religion. That makes me an Omnist, I think.

So I’m embracing this kitchen witch concept whole-heartedly, because it’s not about religion. It’s not about what you believe or the dogma you adhere to. Anyone can do this, all that’s required is faith. Faith in yourself and your ability to provide a good meal and a happy home for your family, the love you have for them, the need to take care of others that you pour into every dish and enforce every time you mop.

This is magic at its most practical, and at its most profound. It’s the magic of love.

Ignoring My Inner Perfectionist

So, yes, I’m participating (unofficially) in NaNoWriMo. I can’t say it’s fun, but it’s getting words on the page. Every morning, I wake up (early) and spend my first hour of the day writing. It’s still dark and I’m tired. I’ve also been ignoring the fact that what I’m writing might be crap. It might be repetitive and it hasn’t begun to touch on the depths I want my character to discover.

But, on this 6th day of NaNoWriMo, I have nearly 12,000 words written. And that is better than none, which is what I had on October 31.

I’ve been thinking about this story for a while. As most stories do, it has undergone massive transformations in what I want, what I would say and what I would tell. I decided to go back to my original concept, only because that’s the one that had gotten me excited. I did change some things, finding inspiration in Dante’s Purgatorio and waffling on genders until I settled on the M/M concept I’d started with, but lacking any erotic content. I can change everything again later, if need be.

I decided to incorporate a vague concept(s) brought to us by Dante Alighieri in his famously enduring trilogy the Divine Comedy—Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Dante was an Italian poet who lived in the Middle Ages. He wrote the Divine Comedy seemingly as a socio-political commentary, much like I do occasionally with My Bone To Pick. He pointed out the bad things going on, some of the good things, and expressed both guilt and regret over the things he’d done, too. His friends and his enemies were both called to the carpet, and his home city of Florence went so far as to exile him. They regretted that later, and even created a false tomb for him after death though his body was interred in Ravenna.

His Comedia is still regarded as one the greatest pieces of literature.

I’d only read Inferno, so I find myself searching the internet nearly every day for Purgatorio references. In Purgatory the sins his MC encounters on his travels has a difference in the severity of the same deadly sins in hell. Hell is primarily reserved for sins that were intentionally harmful, while purgatory seems more neglectful. I’m trying to incorporate that distinction in a general sense.

My MC, Christian, killed himself, which should put him straight to hell according to Dante and his medieval beliefs (some of which persist today). Suicide is a mortal sin, no coming back… Except Christian learns from his guide, Cato (yes! The same name as the guide in Purgatorio, but a totally different take) that spirits called Siphons had attacked him until he couldn’t fight back emotionally. They drained him of all energy and positivity and left nothing but negativity until there was literally no light left in his world. True energy vampires (having just set one of the human variety free from my life, this concept is highly motivating to me).

Christian is getting a second chance after death to prove that, given a different set of circumstances, he would choose a different way. Hopefully.

This is non-erotic, but there is a romance. In just a few more days, I’ll bring Christian to meet Beattie, a poor, beleaguered young man just over the age of majority, so it’s not too weird. Christian is twenty-two.

Beattie’s father is the CEO of a private hospital specifically dealing with mental health issues. Beattie is gay, which his father isn’t too happy about, and also sees spirits, which is the ultimate reason he’s locked up. His brother and sister are fighting their father in court to get their brother reinstated as a fully competent adult, but, in the meantime, he’s in the hospital getting attacked by the same type of spirits Christian was attacked by.

Now, Cato the guide has been having a hard time getting Christian to feel any emotion after being so damaged by the energy vampires, let alone getting him to feel empathy for others. But something about Beattie captures Christian’s attention, and he discovers they have so much in common. He starts to care, then he falls in love…

And Beattie with him.

Of course, they’re doomed for what might amount to be a tragic ending in the world of Romance, but they will each get a different type of happy ending. This story is about learning to love others just as much as you learn to love yourself. It’s acknowledging that not every love you receive in your lifetime is meant to carry on until the end of days, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

I’m excited, no matter that I sometimes want to take a day off (God, and that’s only a week in) or that I want to go back over and pick this story apart with a fine-toothed comb. I want to edit my mistakes, but I’m resisting. I’m letting this thing go, letting it grow wild like a vine, I haven’t even plotted the damned thing except a synopsis so I know what should be happening, but not when. When I’m finished, on December 1, I’ll start looking it over and see what I’ve got.

Until then, I’m going to bury my control-freak perfectionist in a closet somewhere and write for the love of writing.

You can find daily excerpt s of this story on my Facebook page.

NaNoWriMo for the first time

Every year I see a thousand posts about NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Established authors and aspiring writers both seem excited about it and flood social media with word counts and updates.

I always thought, why bother? That’s how long it takes me to write a rough draft anyway. Why should I get involved in this activity and put added pressure on myself to hit a goal, especially when I’ve usually just finished writing a novel. November is for editing—with good reason considering that’s when my holiday rush starts. Time seems to move faster and there’s never enough of it.

I’ve only written new material once in November. (Once, ever.) Book 2 of my Magic Matched series, and then, before the month was out, I’d also written two-thirds of Book 3. The muse was upon me.

I’m calling her back this month. I’m begging my muse for a moment of her time. Or, barring that, I’m begging my motivation to come off its hiatus.

I’ve had a hard year—really starting last fall, so not just this calendar year. Everything has slowed down, everything has been stressful. Personal issues have overtaken my schedule, there’s no time to write and, when there is, I have little motivation to do so. I’ve been exhausted, running from one catastrophe to the next.

I’ve been working on the same rough draft for four months now. I’ve put aside one book completely and haven’t released anything new since the last of The Double O Saga, which I wrote last year (a struggle, as my year of hardship had just begun). I don’t feel like releasing new stories, I don’t feel like marketing, I don’t feel like participating.

I am working on a book though (see above) but I’m only halfway through. I need roughly 40,000 words to make it a full-length novel. But finishing a work in progress is not the point of NaNoWriMo, is it? You’ve got to start fresh, with a new story and not a single word written before November 1, correct? This counts out a lot of projects I’ve started where I’ve got a few chapters, or whatever.

I have to finish the one book. But I’ve got to shake things up too, maybe remember why I started writing in the first place. So I’ll be starting a second book. That one needs 50,000 to complete NaNoWriMo. That brings me up to 90,000 words? Different stories, different techniques, different motivations…same goal: Finish.

Holy Hell.

My plan is to buckle down and finish the first, but also taking my time with that story the way I usually do with all my stories. Some days, I really can’t write. Life happens. Plus, I’m a writer who needs a little bit of self-editing along the way. I can’t progress if something feels out of place or fits poorly.

So I’m also going to wake up earlier every single morning, write a chapter of my new one without stopping, without looking back and without caring what I just wrote. No matter what, every single day. I’ll outline every chapter, decide what needs to be done in each beforehand, then simply write it. No looking back. I’ll fix it later.

And that’s the point, right? Just write. Nora Roberts said

‘I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.’

Something has to shake loose around here. I started writing because I love it, because there were stories in my head clawing to get out, but somewhere along the way it got so commercial. I chose to write erotica because it was the most challenging genre I tried (seriously, you write about sex without sounding ridiculous then get back to me with your condemnation, mmkay?) But this NaNoWriMo, I’ll be writing something totally different. Might end up being YA but probably NA.

It’s something I’ve been tossing around for a very long time, a romance where the two lovers truly can’t be together. They can’t be together physically, they can’t even touch physically, but the emotions are there…and maybe that’s the thing that saves them both.

It’ll be challenging. I’m used to creating physical interludes between my characters to express a range of emotions, but what if it all just boils down to tension? I have to find a new way to show the emotional connection, longing and understanding. What if it’s learning how to love another that teaches you how to love yourself? And that opens the future’s possibilities…for them both. I mean, just because you love someone, doesn’t mean that’s who you belong with forever, right? This ain’t your typical romance.

For the first time all year, I’m really excited. Even if I fail, I can’t wait until November 1, when I’ll wake up too early to be rational, only half-functional, and write just for me. Even if no one ever sees it, even it’s awful, I’ll be putting words on the page, creating something. Something new, something I haven’t done before.

That’s the point. Just write. Create.

Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone. Good luck to the participants, and you’ll find my word counts and maybe some excerpts on my Facebook page and my website if you feel like stopping by to check it out. Leave your own word counts and excerpts in the comments, if you want. We’ll help each other through it!

I want to sparkle, dammit.

Once upon a time, I knew who I was, but then, seemingly suddenly though I know it was a gradual slide, I lost myself.

Most of us spend our teenage years and well into our twenties (or thirties) trying to figure out who we are. Some of us need more time, some of us need less time, but what I think none of us realize is…we need all the time. We need our whole lives.

By the time I’d reached my twenty-fifth year, I had a decent handle on my likes and dislikes, what I was courageous enough to attempt, how to trust my intuition and just how firm my moral foundation was. I knew the type of person I wanted to be and actively worked to become that person, with a few hiccups here and there because I’m human.

But things changed. Once I learned who I was, life conspired to test me or maybe evolve me, whichever. Without realizing, I slipped into roles defined by other people’s expectations. Maybe you can relate. Parent, child, sibling, spouse, teacher, counselor, healer, lover, protector…or take your pick from a thousand others. We are all something to someone else, but that singular title doesn’t begin to cover what we really are.

I started letting what they thought define me which, in turn, started wearing down my own sense of self. The more bits I lost of myself, the more depressed I got. I didn’t even know it, either, until one day I started crying and couldn’t stop. I only faced the sunlight when I had no choice. I was physically ill, tired… I don’t know if I had or have clinical depression because I refuse to see someone about it, in spite of my doctor’s referral and recommendation. (I’m stubborn and delusional and don’t want to hear their definition of me when I’m already fighting against so many others. If you think it would help you, however, I actively encourage you to seek help.)

I started writing, in fact, because I was pigeonholed into a box that didn’t fit, complete with expectations I didn’t want to live up to by people I didn’t want to let down.

I let others tell me who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do. And, because I didn’t want to seem too ‘special’ I stopped dreaming, or at least I stopped working toward my dreams, and then I got depressed because I wasn’t any closer to achieving my dreams. A terrible cycle.

Writing helped me combat the pull of others’ expectations. When I first started sliding, publishing a story was my act of courage, putting sentences together into a working plot was my rebellious act of giving voice to my inner self—not my fantasies, memories or wishes and not my feelings on people I know or even myself, really, but a certain piece of my soul that would not be silenced. Every time a publisher said ‘yes’ was both validation and liberation.

I haven’t always written well, but until two or three years ago, I wrote fearlessly. I’ll always have my inner editor yammering in my brain when I think about what has come before, but hidden inside those stories is my courage, my pain, my knowledge and my fear. But, here I am, a decade after I began sliding into other people’s boxes, and I’m still writing, still clinging to the art that lent me sanity.

I can see the difference. I can see how I’ve gone from writing ‘true’ to writing ‘soft.’ Not in all things, but enough. Whatever will people think if I… But, wait, that already happens. I wrote Levi fearlessly, and there is still criticism. I wrote My Voyeur, then changed it to be easier but that gets criticism too.

I’ve had a terrible few years. It could have been worse, yes, but there has been upheaval and change in ways that were brutal to live through.

—I say that because, looking back, I think it wasn’t too bad and though I remember my tears vividly, I remember my fear and anxiety, my physical unhealthiness, my fight through depression, I also hear someone who was close to me tell me I had nothing to be sad about. Looking back, however, thinking it wasn’t too bad, is me letting her put me into a box that doesn’t fit. It’s me slipping back into a role defined for me rather than by me. A clear and important distinction. I hit a breaking point, a true moment where I knew things had to change and so I did. I lost friendships, hell, I lost my mind—

But I found me again.

Guess what? I’m not the same as I was when I was twenty five. I’m someone else now, still with my spirit and, surprisingly, still certain of what sort of person I want to be. I’d lost some of my courage, changed parts of my public self to accommodate what others wanted me to be, and I’d forgotten the sound of my intuition’s voice…but I’m human, and I’ll consider that a hiccup that taught me a great deal about a whole lot.

I’m tired of holding back to accommodate others. I’m tired of not living true to myself or my courage, of pushing back on my dreams in fear of leaving others behind. I’m tired of dimming my light so that others don’t feel like I’m pretending to be special.

I want to sparkle, dammit.

Also, I want to write what feels right, not because I think the majority will handle a story better if I change this or that. Sorry, but oh well, if I make you uncomfortable…maybe that’s your problem to evolve through.

I’m writing this on the off-chance that someone else might need to read it. I’m writing this to prove to myself that I’m still courageous enough to face the truth, even when it hurts. And, the truth is, you need to find yourself every day. You need to define yourself every day. Even if you’re different every day, it’s up to you to tell the world who you are and who you want to be, because, otherwise, the world will tell you—and that’s soul-sucking.

Every day, embrace who you are and recognize that that can change repeatedly. Be courageous, be true. You are special, don’t let the haters tell you you’re not. You should spend your whole life defining you to yourself, don’t let others do it for you.

A Divine Female

I want to share a story I recently came across concerning Inanna, the ancient Sumerian goddess of both love and war, connected to Venus, known as the Queen of Heaven, celebrated and honored as a powerful deity.

Inanna went to visit her sister, who ruled the underworld. Before she went, she instructed her servant to contact the gods if she hadn’t returned by the third day because anyone who entered the underworld wouldn’t be allowed to leave. Wearing an elaborate outfit, Inanna descended.

She passed through seven gates in the underworld, all of which had been ordered closed and locked by her sister. At each gate, Inanna was forced to give up a part of her outfit until she finally stood before her sister naked and powerless. She still made her sister get off the throne so she could sit, but judgment was passed against her. Inanna was sentenced to death and hung on a hook.

Three days passed and her servant appealed to the gods. At first, they refused to help, knowing Inanna had brought about her own punishment but the god of creation and magic was troubled by the occurrence and agreed to help. He created two figures to collect Inanna’s body. Her sister was in agony, willing to trade anything to gain respite. The two take Inanna’s corpse and sprinkle the food of life onto it, resurrecting her.

Creatures are sent by the queen of the underworld to take someone in Inanna’s place. Inanna will not let them take her loyal servant and friends, because they had mourned her. However, her husband had not, entertaining other women while she was believed to be dead, and so she let them take him in her place.

Inanna’s sister-in-law pleads on behalf of her brother and is able to take his place for half the year in the underworld, thereby giving rise to the seasons.

~

This is one of the oldest recorded myths. You will notice the themes of descent into the underworld, death and resurrection. In three days, no less. Food of life…Seasons changing. I’m sure you’ll also notice how these particulars themes carry on throughout other cultures’ mythologies, first among female deities (Persephone, for example) and then to males (like Jesus.)

I don’t particularly care what you believe, I just think it’s interesting that a common myth begins with a goddess, and yet, so many have never even heard of her. A woman who lost her power, was trapped in a world with no light or life, but brought back and resurrected to retake her throne.

Would that womankind did the same.

In recent days, we have, again, been bombarded by the fact that many men still hold no respect for women. We have seen rapists and molesters in powerful positions come to light and we have seen rapists and molesters put into powerful positions against all commonsense. We are losing girls to the sex trade, taken as they walk home from school, snatched off the street and seduced on the internet. The stories go on and on, memes, hashtags and movements abound, but still it seems like so many are swimming against the current, and so many are deliberately pretending to an obtuseness that can’t possibly be genuine.

It wasn’t always like this. A long, long time ago, women were venerated, respected, loved and cared for. They were the leaders of their families and of society. Lineage and authority were traced through the mother’s line because she knew who her children were, while men had to take her word for it. She wasn’t called vile names for knowing the worth of her own body, nor was she vilified for celebrating all the things her body could do.

She held power over her own self, her own actions and her own future.

I’m a traditionalist in the sense that I think society as a whole should revert back to ancient traditions concerning power roles. Essentially, to my view, women were meant to lead because we are the caretakers and men were meant to protect, following their leaders’ directives, because they are physically stronger. Somewhere in humankind’s past, men took over the power—and don’t argue because this is well-accepted history. For the past several thousand years, men have controlled ‘civilization’ and they’ve been running it into the ground.

Because they aren’t natural caretakers. They are natural protectors, but what they’ve been protecting are resources, money, institutions that guarantee them more power. Women tend to care more about people, the elderly, the downtrodden, the children. Society.

Yes, I know that’s overly simplistic and there will always be exceptions to the rule, but it seems to me that the way people are viewing the world these days, it’s best not to complicate the message.

I think it’s time the women got another shot at leadership. I think it’s time we started looking into our own history and mythology, so much of which has never been written down because history has been preserved by men. So many truly important deities were depicted as women, in both love and war, hearth and home, travels, life and death. And justice, most especially justice. Interesting, right?

I think women should step up and show their strength, and I think that’s happening right now.

A Must Read Trilogy

So, I saw a book and the description looked more interesting than anything I’ve seen in a long time in the world of paranormal romance, and coming from a new-to-me author. I’ve been more inclined to reread old favorites in my favorite genre than I have been to seek out new stories. I’m just as weary of trying to read stories I don’t like as every other reader out there…

But I saw this one and I decided to sign up for a review copy. I guess I’m a sadist in a way, and once I did sign up there was no going back. Then I realized it was a trilogy, and I’d just signed up for the third.

Praying hard, I found the first two books. Their descriptions looked interesting, too.  Then I saw the author was from Baltimore, Maryland, my hometown. Gotta support my fellow Maryland writers, especially when they’re writing my favorite genre, the genre I write.

N.D. Jones must be my storytelling soul mate. What I love, she wrote about. Concepts I use, she used too. And, praise all that’s holy, her books were amazing. I loved them all and once I started reading, I didn’t stop until they were finished. The Death and Destiny Trilogy is a must read for anyone who loves paranormal romance.

Of Fear and Faith

It’s been a while since I read a paranormal romance by a new-to-me author that I enjoyed this much. N.D. Jones wrote a fantastic story that sweeps you up and bowls you along. Her characters have depth, they’re relatable. You root for them, cheer their triumphs and wince when they show you just how ‘human’ they can be. She also shows you just how enduring and entertaining classic concepts can be in the right hands.

My only ‘criticism’ of this story was that she’d written a clear resolution, the conflict had been resolved…but the story kept going on, down a different path that later proves valuable to the series, but not that particular book. It felt unconnected from what had come before. I wondered if it had been meant to be a short story between Book 1 and Book 2, and so that’s how I viewed it. Bonus story! So, not really a criticism at all, in that light.

I sat down to read this entire series because, for the first time in a while, my interest was caught by a paranormal romance’s book description. I’m so glad I did. I devoured this series, barely coming up for air, doing little else until I’d read them all. This trilogy is going on my To-Be-Read-Again pile, and I’ll be watching for other books by N.D. Jones.

Of Beasts and Bonds

The whole story is well done—the whole trilogy for that matter. I love that the two main characters are revealing themselves to each other bit by bit, and that both their magic are developing in tandem. I love the intricate and rich relationships both main characters enjoy, giving a sense of the deep roots they have and what they have to lose. Technically, when the time comes, they will fight for the world, for a goddess, but you know they’re really fighting for their circle of friends and family and I think it’s fantastic that the extended characters are also developed enough to make us feel their connections.

I was fully immersed in the world of witches and were-cats when I began this story. N.D. Jones has crafted a trilogy that swept me up and carried me on. I went from finishing Book 1 to beginning Book 2 in the space of minutes, so I will say that the devil’s in the details, and there are many details in the second book, not all of them necessary and not all of them felt consistent. Nothing major, however, and it was easy to lose myself in the pages.

I am so glad I found this trilogy. It’s been too long since I enjoyed a paranormal romance from a new-to-me author, and I’d forgotten how exciting it is to find a gifted storyteller who writes stories you want to read again and again.

 Of Deception and Divinity

This book is nearly non-stop action. From paranormal battles to emotional upheavals, I couldn’t put this one down until I was finished—and that’s saying something considering how avidly I devoured the previous two books in the trilogy.

As the title implies, this book is the one where lies are revealed. N.D. Jones does a fantastic job of balancing the past influences on our main characters with their present day fears, failures, achievements and love. In fact, she makes the reader feel the love between Assefa and Sanura in a way that’s real, lasting…and threatened, so that you end up holding your breath in the hopes that they will find victory, which isn’t guaranteed.

All bonds are tested—friends, families, mates and familiars. Sanura’s character is a better woman than I am, because she proves herself much more forgiving than me, and more quickly forgiving at that. Assefa’s personal demons must be faced, and while I think the premise for his long absence from his witch a bit thin, it still holds merit considering his character’s fears, and I appreciate that he was the one that set about his own healing once he realized what he had to lose. Oddly enough I’m much more forgiving of the water witch of legend than the cat of legend, primarily because her inner conflict is completely understandable to me, but my disappointment in the one only emphasizes how ‘real’ these characters have been crafted to be.

One extremely minor ‘criticism’ for the formatting of this story. Near the end, the author inserts images in order to illustrate her vision. I’d have preferred the images to be in an appendix of some sort, and for her to have trusted her readers to create their own image, and to trust her own words, which were fluid and descriptive and more than good enough to convey the vision she wanted.

Romances have a happy ending. I wasn’t certain if this one would—there were several ways this story could have ended, including the continuation of the series into ‘the next generation’. It’s a testament to Ms. Jones’ skill that I was so worried for the outcome of her characters and, until it happened, I couldn’t be sure just what would happen.

Ms. Jones is taking the secondary characters of this book and creating stories for them, too. I will be the first in line to buy those books. If you enjoy paranormal romance as much as I do, you will not want to miss the Death and Destiny trilogy.

You can find the promotional post for N.D. Jones here.

What’s a Writer to Write About?

I’ve been wracking my brains for blog post topics. It’s harder than you might think and I’m really trying to be consistent with this idea now. Over the past few years, I’ve discovered I’m not very good at sharing my thoughts, not very good at conveying advice in a timeframe that might encourage people to look forward to a certain day. I’m not a blogger.

What can an author write about? Writing, which seems boring. Maybe some paranormal creatures, which is an interesting approach, I suppose. I do that sometimes. We’re not going to write about the plots spinning in our minds because we tend to be a paranoid breed and we don’t want others to write our story before we can.

With everything that’s been going on, I’ve been trying to figure out what to write that wasn’t political nature. That’s turning out to be harder than ever. There’s so much happening, so much destruction from nature and human nature both, so many bad decisions being made, so many people moving away from compassion and empathy, so many damned trolls on a variety of comment boards. In fact, some of these trolls—I can’t help but think—don’t even believe the bullshit they write, but I also think they’re tempting fate by writing it anyway.

What comes around goes around, and that’s a karmic law we’ve all seemed to have forgotten. It’s part of the golden rule of every religion—do unto others… That’s the gist, anyway.

I wonder if people stop to ask ‘why’ anymore. Why do you believe what you believe, why do you feel the way you do, why do you think whatever you think. How many of the thoughts and comments you repeat are really yours? And why can’t you see from the other’s point of view? Is it really so threatening to take pause and examine more closely? Just thinking about something doesn’t imply agreement of, or support for, that idea…

Maybe it just affords us a moment to remember that the other person is human too.

This came through my Tumblr the other day. Maybe there is something to this. Maybe, through all these natural disasters, all the strikes against humanity via terrorism, lone wolf gunmen or everyday assaults against compassion and understanding, we’re building a common, hidden thread of weariness that suggests enough is enough, and it’s time to be people again. It’s time to remember that everyone else is people, too.

To have and to hold…

Today I’m interested in the Fourth Amendment.

Search and Seizure. Essentially, this amendment guarantees every citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their lives, property, businesses, etc. This is why the police and government agencies need warrants to look deeper when they suspect you’ve committed some crime or infraction. This is why it’s illegal to pull someone over for no good reason and search the trunk of their car, or their pockets. It’s why police can’t just barge into your house, why they can’t stop and frisk young black men for simply walking down the street. It’s why the government can’t fly drones over your corn field looking for your hidden marijuana plants or tap your phone or read your emails. Social media is not included…

This Amendment doesn’t get as much press as the First or Second, and do you even know what the Third is? (Quartering soldiers. Britain used to make people house the military at their own expense. Way to save on the military budget, right?) Anyway, the Fourth is very important, so while 1 and 2 have their rabid battles, the Fourth is quietly doing the heavy lifting of protecting the citizens of this country.

While everyone was distracted, it came under fire.

Most notably, the Fourth has been undermined by Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio. According to the Washingtom Post (just to name a source, but it’s validated by other news organizations) a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop detaining people who were not suspected of actual criminal activity.

Essentially, Arpaio disregarded court orders and targeted people he thought specifically fit a stereotype in his region of what an ‘illegal immigrant’ was. Cough, cough…’Mexicans’…

For the record, being in this country, even without documentation, isn’t illegal—which I know will be a shocker for so many to learn. Undocumented residence in this country is a civil violation. It’s on the same level as not paying child support—which may, depending upon state rules, result in a stay in jail, but isn’t something that would go on your record or even cause deportation (shock!). Jaywalking is a crime, living somewhere isn’t.

Side note to create empathy: let’s say you’re a white man. Let’s pretend that being in the KKK, while not a crime, will get you fined for some civil violation. Maybe…I don’t know…it’s against your town’s decency standards, or something. So, Sheriff Someone goes looking for KKK members, but he starts stopping every white man he comes across because, let’s face it, nobody else is joining the group, right? But you got stopped, just because you were white… You’re not part of the group, would never be part of the group, but you still got stopped, frisked for any potential burning crosses, strip searched and checked out for swastika tattoos and then your home was also ransacked—and God help you if your sheets are white, yeah?

Is that fair? No. No, it’s not fair because you were just walking across the Walmart parking lot, minding your own business with no discernible tattoos or political/religious affiliations. Still, you fit the stereotype and so you were stopped. Wow, that must be infuriating…and illegal.

But Sheriff Someone was given a free pass, not only setting a precedent that other sheriffs in other towns may follow, but creating a boisterous, though small, group of supporters for Sheriff Someone’s policies regarding this terrible, indecent nuisance. Yes? So what happens when the town council decides it’s indecent for men to wear socks with sandals, which is your favorite thing to do? Or for residents to eat anything other than locally-grown fair trade organic produce but you’re allergic to spinach and only eat meat? With me so far? Maybe….?

Well, here’s another example, then. According to the NY Post, among others, Trump’s lawyers have asked Facebook for private information concerning private individuals who have ‘liked’ anti-Trump pages. Like the rest of America, I take news these days with a grain of salt and look for multiple sources to validate whatever claims are made. This is not making waves, so do your research, butI believe this case to be true, especially given this Administration’s history with these things.

What history? Demanding voter information, for one example. Some of what they wanted was public knowledge, or for sale through the State, but other requested data was inessential to what they were looking for. So what will they really use it for? What does this particular, and unpopular/authoritarian-leaning, administration want with the information that previous administrations didn’t feel the need to waste money on? We blame Trump’s narcissism, he needs to prove those other 3 million votes were illegally cast, but there could be a darker purpose.

Like, oh, I don’t know, rounding up critics and those opposed to the sweeping and oft-times detrimental policy changes being enacted upon us. Puts that Facebook thing into a different light, looking at it from that perspective, right? How…Orwellian. I suggest you read some, in fact.

They’ve got the ‘average’ American hoodwinked, too. They (a particular set of media/politicians/ideologues) challenge your natural reaction to giving up your privacy. You shy away, you have a funny resistance to it… But they say, what do you have to hide? You’re a good American, a patriot, don’t you want to help…

But you’re helping the downfall of your own Constitution. Every time you say, sure you can look at my corn field on camera, sure that phone could be tapped, of course they should give up their emails…what do they have to hide? You are undermining the very hard-working Fourth Amendment, and you might not care so much about it right now, but just wait till it’s gone. This one, above all, is the very concept that truly stands between freedom and totalitarianism.

Laws can be changed, and in this political climate there is no guarantee that you’ll know beforehand. You could let the police into your house thinking to be helpful, and, in certain towns, if they spy your dildo, you can be charged. If they use the bathroom, without search and seizure restrictions they can open your medicine cabinet and poke around…What do you have in there? Did you dispose of any leftover medications legally and properly?

The wholesale removal of rights would cause an uproar among us all, but a little bit here and there…and what does it matter of you’ve done ‘nothing’ wrong…

There are a myriad of small infractions a lot of us commit every day, and the Fourth keeps our little, mostly innocuous secrets safe. So be a good citizen, pay attention, and protect your privacy however you can.

That’s my bone to pick…

You won’t always agree, and that’s okay. I’d still love to hear your comments, so long as you can manage to keep yourself respectful, because we all deserve a little dignity. Be human, you know? I’m not a liberal and I’m not a conservative. I believe the best path lies in the middle and the truth takes participation from both sides. I also believe we’re on a dangerous, slippery slope because a lot of sides of a lot of issues aren’t listening to anyone else.

Nobody is always entirely right…

 

 

Monday Morning I want my Quarterbacks

So, for a while now, I’ve been threatening to get my rant on. For the most part, I’ve wanted to keep my politics separate from my business because we all know how how fast a business goes up in flames when you voice an opinion that somebody is bound to disagree with…

Which is, ultimately, why I decided to start up this section, entitled My Bone to Pick. My opinion, my perspective, and we all know that, in this day and age, perspective IS reality, no matter if that perspective is right or wrong, true or false, yes?

I’m not a coward. My business doesn’t mean more to me than speaking out for the right things. And why should everybody else get to have their say and not me?

So, the topic du jour this Monday, September 25th, 2017: Who took a knee at the football game?

Oh, let me rephrase that: Who cares who took a knee at the football game while North Korea declares (potentially nuclear) war on the United States of America?

Y’all are so worried about your favorite player having an opinion different than yours that you’ve ignored the real threat to your freedoms and safety. Squabbling amongst ourselves is going to get much more difficult to do when we’re all choking on toxic radiation. And you were so concerned about Zika…and Ebola…wait till you get a load of what’s coming.

Hold on, though. I promised an opinion, right?

My opinion is, #takeaknee. Quite frankly, I think Kap was lazy, didn’t feel like standing up, got called out on it and came up with a brilliant protest on the fly. (So, good job, there, man.) Now that there’s something to kneel for though, I’m down with it. Since when is kneeling disrespectful? Don’t you kneel before God (because, let’s just call a stereotypical spade a stereotypical spade and posit the theory that Good Christians are the ones with the strongest Anti-Knee opinion, mmm-kay?).

They shouldn’t do it on their team owner’s time? Maybe the owner doesn’t mind. Maybe, in fact, the owner agrees with the protest. After all, he sees the value in the men of color on his team, right? He doesn’t just appreciate the white players. The owner sees their achievements, their skills and, in many cases, their humanitarian efforts. And yet, so many people in the communities these men have come from, who may even share similar value, efforts and achievements, don’t have the same opportunities…and they don’t have the same freedoms. Maybe rectifying that is a fight the owners believe in and support.

Sure, you have the right to not watch, tear up your ticket, write the Commissioner (because I’m sure he’s personally reading your letter, uh-huh, I’m positive). Or, you could just sing the anthem louder. (You do know the words right? ‘Cause, if not, that’s disrespectful, you know?) They only kneel for the length of the first verse, so, maybe you could just handle yourself until the game starts?

Maybe, while you put your hand over your heart and honor those who fought and died for your country and your Constitution, you could also spare a minute’s contemplation for the men and women who have served to protect freedoms they didn’t, and still don’t, have.

And if you’re feeling moved by any amount of Christian sentiment, any molecule of empathy for your fellow Americans, those who put their lives on the line so you could argue about non-harmful, peaceful events that took place in the last five minutes of a pre-game ritual, perhaps you, too, will be driven to your knees so you can pray that all people of your homeland, all members of what essentially amounts to being your tribe, may one day share the same equality and justice that you have.

That’s my bone to pick…

You won’t always agree, and that’s okay. I’d still love to hear your comments, so long as you can manage to keep yourself respectful, because we all deserve a little dignity. Be human, you know? I’m not a liberal and I’m not a conservative. I believe the best path lies in the middle and the truth takes participation from both sides. I also believe we’re on a dangerous, slippery slope because a lot of sides of a lot of issues aren’t listening to anyone else.

Nobody is always entirely right…

This witching season, try something new…

 

I decided to help readers out a bit (and hopefully I don’t get in trouble for it). Now you can read the whole first chapter of each book in the Magic Matched series to decide whether or not the story might be for you. If it looks intriguing, you can also download a FREE, three chapter preview of Betrothed, the first book in the series, on Instafreebie.

I get it. Trying a new author these days is an ordeal. Even if the books are free, do you really want to waste your time if the story is awful or doesn’t resonate. I go through this too, when I find a new book by a new author. It helps when you can preview and get a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into…

And just to toot my own horn a bit, I’ve been told by many people that my series surprised them. Many readers loved it, they all think it just gets better and better, that the suspense is perfectly balanced with the romance…

“Fast-paced with a complex backstory, it’s like you’re reading the Game of Thrones for witches!”

“Once I started reading I was instantly hooked!”

“The love scenes were excellent, quite possibly some of the best I’ve read in a while. Its intelligent paranormal erotic writing and I love that. Combine that, with suspense and some turmoil, and I am hooked.”


Don’t take their word for it though. Try it for yourself.

In witching society, there is a strict hierarchy, Family covens are ruled by Mothers or Fathers who hold the bulk of their bloodline’s power and archaic rules are enforced, disregarding modern sentiments. Magic and politics are the only things that matter, and marriages are arranged for advantage rather than love.

Silviu Lovasz and Georgeanne Davenold must learn to open their hearts to each other in order to unlock their full magical potential. But with all that stands in their way – archaic traditions, murder plots, and a betrayal that threatens all they can be – they will need the group of allies they have built to help them navigate the dangerous world of witches, and the dark magic stalking them every step of the way.